PhD Blog – How can we make sense of the experiences of a growing number of Eastern European women in English prisons?

1448056554235This new contribution to the PhG guest blog is from Magdalena Tomaszewska. Magdalena is a second-year PhD candidate at the University of Surrey. Her PhD explores the treatment and experiences of female Eastern European prisoners in England and Wales (particularly those from the A8 and A2 accession countries to the EU). Working across 3 prisons in England and a third sector organisation providing support for female foreign national prisoners, she examines the lived realities of incarceration for these women, taking into account their socio-cultural backgrounds, relationships with staff and other prisoners, and the effects of the penal policy shifts which have prioritised removal of ‘foreigners’.

This project builds on her Masters research which explored the experiences of female foreign national prisoners in one prison in the South East of England and has been awarded Howard League’s John Sunley prize. Magdalena’s broad research interests lie in the area exploring linkages between identity, imprisonment and immigration control, especially in the context of women’s imprisonment. Alongside her doctoral studies, she is working with the University College London and a user-led charity User Voice co-coordinating a large-scale trial testing the merits of mentalisation based treatment (MBT) for offenders diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).

Contact: m.tomaszewska@surrey.ac.uk


How can we make sense of the experiences of a growing number of Eastern European women in English prisons?

Anna, originally from the Czech Republic, came to the UK at the age of 10 and has lived here ever since. After committing a drug-related offence, she was sentenced to just over 3 years imprisonment. In addition to her custodial term she was also informed that she was going to be deported from the UK on the completion of her sentence, since, as it was explained to her, as a ‘foreign criminal’ she had ‘no right to remain in the UK’. She was released from HMP Peterborough earlier this year having successfully appealed her case.

Anna is one of a growing number of Eastern European women currently held in prisons throughout England and Wales. Since 2004, when 11 countries of the former Eastern Bloc[1] joined the European Union, the number of female prisoners originating from these countries has risen dramatically (even though the overall proportion of foreign nationals in the female estate has remained at a 11%) (MoJ, 2016). Today, within a population which counts nearly 80 countries, every third inmate comes from Eastern Europe, with Poland and Romania as the top two. Overall however, these women have remained invisible, apart from a handful of third sector accounts which emphasize their vulnerability to exploitation through trafficking (e.g. Prison Reform Trust, 2012), or press reports which lump them together with men, portraying them under the label of ‘dangerous Eastern European criminals’[2], and with it fuelling the demands for more streamlined deportations.[3]

Both of these perspectives are problematic. For one, given the difficulty in identifying victims of trafficking via the National Referral Mechanism it is tricky to assess how big a problem trafficking is amongst the incarcerated East European women (Gelsthorpe and Hales, 2012). It would be difficult to deduce that from the nature of offences which predominantly land them in prison, which PRT (2012) reports as theft and handling or drugs offences. At the same time, violent offences among this population are lower than for their British counterparts. Majority serve their first and only prison sentences, with a ‘very low’ risk of reoffending. In this sense, there is also little to support the argument that these women are especially dangerous.

These discussions however divert attention away from the changes that have already taken root in the female prison system. When Anna arrived at HMP Bronzefield in 2013, it had been 5 years since the UK Borders Act 2007 came into power, requiring all EEA nationals sentenced to more than 2 years imprisonment to be – in line with section 32 (5) of the Act – mandatorily deported from the UK[4]. This, as Kaufman (2012) has shown, was further accompanied by broader logistical arrangements between the Prison Service and the Home Office under the ‘hubs and spokes’ agreement, whereby non-citizens (especially those under deportation orders) are to be concentrated in specific foreign national ‘hub’ prisons which are furnished with full time immigration staff who are to facilitate a more efficient deportation process.

In 2013, on the recommendation of the NOMS Women’s Custodial Estate Review (2013), this system was adopted in the female estate. As the report advised, a female foreign national hub was to be created at HMP Peterborough, ‘taking into account best practice from the male hub and spoke system’ (p.6). Much like in the male estate then, the female prison system took it upon itself to systematically identify and segregate women who ‘do not belong in the UK’.

In my research I explore the experiences of currently the largest regional group within the female foreign prison population – Eastern European women – who ‘do time’ under these conditions. Taking inspiration from the scholarship which looks to questions about identity at the intersection of gender, race, and class to cast light on the prison as a space ‘permeated’ by broader social inequalities (e.g. Phillips and Earle, 2011; Bosworth and Kaufman, 2012), I am interviewing currently and formerly incarcerated Eastern European women as well as a range of practitioners working with them (prison officers, legal case workers), documenting accounts like that of Anna, who shortly before being transferred to HMP Peterborough was told by one prisoner that this was a place where “all you Russian prostitutes go to”, and where she could, according to one prison officer, “find the support of those with the same “culture”. Politics of identity, as Kaufman (2012, p. 18) observes, ‘are central to the practice of punishment’.

Stories such as Anna’s can offer new insights into this work, especially when it comes to documenting the relationship between imprisonment and nationality. Authors such as Emma Kaufman and Mary Bosworth have led this effort, developing illuminating accounts on how the practice of deportation and treatment of many non-citizens caught up in it (especially those originating from former British colonies) implicates the British prison in the exercise of ‘collective [postcolonial] amnesia’. The positioning of East European prisoners like Anna clearly doesn’t fit this frame. Instead, it seems to speak to anxieties about more recent, ‘suspect white’ migrants from poorer parts of Europe, who, although conform to racialized understandings of what it means to be European, are subject to gendered, classed and racialized framing as ‘other’, based on language and cultural difference (Bhui, 2016).

Thinking more broadly about the emerging themes, many important changes are currently taking place in the arena of British immigration policy. As the fieldwork for this project gathers pace, the British government is set to start the process of taking the UK out of the European Union. Although it seems that for now, the topic of foreign national prisoners as well as the specifics of immigration policy where it crosses paths with the prison system remain lower down the list of negotiation priorities for Theresa May, it is yet to be seen what effect Brexit will have on the carceral lives of the growing ranks of female prisoners from Eastern Europe (as well as those from wider EU) held in British penitentiary institutions. For Anna, one thing was clear: “Learn to live with uncertainty”.

References

Bhui, H. (2016), ‘Place of Race in understanding immigration control and the detention of foreign nationals’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 16 (3), pp. 267 – 285.

Bosworth, M. and Kaufman, E. (2012), ‘Gender and Punishment’, in Simon, J. and Sparks, R. (eds.) Handbook of Punishment and Society, London: Sage.

Gelsthorpe, L. and Hales, L. (2012), ‘Criminalisation of Migrant Women’, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, UK, available at: http://www.crim.cam.ac.uk/people/academic_research/loraine_gelsthorpe/criminalreport29july12.pdf.

Kaufman, E. (2012), ‘Finding Foreigners: Race and the Politics of Memory in British Prisons’, Population, Space and Place, 18 (6), pp. 701 – 714.

Ministry of Justice (2016), Offender Management Caseload Statistics 2016, London Ministry of Justice.

National Offender Management Service (2013), Women’s Custodial Estate Review, available at: http://socialwelfare.bl.uk/subject-areas/services-client-groups/adult-offenders/nationaloffendermanagementservice/155762womens-custodial-estate-review.pdf.

Phillips, C. and Earle, R. (2011), ‘Cultural diversity, ethnicity and race relations in prison’ in Crewe, B. and Bennett, J. (eds.) The Prisoner, London: Routledge.

Prison Reform Trust (2012), ‘No way out: A briefing paper on foreign national women in prison in England and Wales’, (online), available at: http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/portals/0/documents/nowayout.pdf.

Footnotes

[1] The 2004 A8 accession countries include: Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia. The 2007 A2 accession countries include: Bulgaria and Romania. In 2013 Croatia also joined the EU.

[2] See for example: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2614279/Poland-tops-league-foreign-inmates-UK-jails-ahead-Ireland-Jamaica.html.

[3] See for example: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3622924/EU-killers-rapists-ve-failed-deport-UK-s-inability-expel-thousands-foreign-criminals-undermines-case-EU-say-MPs.html, https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2291020/more-than-130-polish-criminals-jailed-in-the-uk-should-have-been-deported-in-past-four-years-bungling-officials-admit/, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/eu-referendum-more-than-13000-foreign-criminals-awaiting-deportation-from-uk-a7063026.html.

[4] This rule also applies to all non-EEA nationals sentenced to more than 1 year in prison.

PhD Blog – The police and domestic abuse crime: positive steps but much more to be done

larissaThis weeks PhD Blog is from Larissa Povey, final-year PhD Candidate within the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research and Associate Lecturer in Criminal Justice at Sheffield Hallam University. Larissa’s PhD explores the impact of changes in UK criminal justice and welfare policies on the everyday lives of women at the social margins. Using a mixture of qualitative interviews, visual and ethnographic methods her study examines the lived experiences, perceptions and sense-making narratives of women who have been subject to multiple interventions from state agencies spanning both welfare and penal systems. Larissa hopes to make a contribution through using a feminist lens to explore the gendered character of social control and disciplining, texturing theoretical debates which often focus on men.

Larissa’s broad research interests lie in the areas of women and criminal justice, punishment beyond the prison, welfare policy, labour markets and social control.

PhD funding: Sheffield Hallam University Vice-Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship. This PhD is linked to the ESRC-funded “Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change” project (http://www.welfareconditionality.ac.uk/).

Contact: larissa.j.povey@student.shu.ac.uk

The police and domestic abuse crime: positive steps but much more to be done

As a PhD candidate researching women’s experiences of the criminal justice system and welfare reform, I was recently invited to take part in a Domestic Abuse Crime Scrutiny Panel for a national police agency. This got me thinking about the way we deal with this type of crime in England and Wales; alongside small steps in the right direction there are contradictory developments which thwart such advances, particularly broader shifts in social policy under austerity.

Based on efforts by the Crown Prosecution Service to show transparency and engage the local community in examining police work, the earlier scrutiny panels focused on hate crime; the first, piloted in West Yorkshire in 2004 focused specifically on race hate crime. The development of domestic abuse crime scrutiny panels followed and more recently we have seen panels focusing on cases of violence against women and girls.

Efforts such as these indicate that across the criminal justice system agencies are attempting to take domestic abuse (DA) crimes and violence against women and girls more seriously. Indeed, statistics from a recent Crown Prosecution Service report (2016: 1) show that it is “prosecuting and convicting more defendants of domestic abuse, rape, sexual offences and child sexual abuse than ever before”. Importantly, there has been an 11% rise in convictions for Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) crimes, a trend that has been seen over the past three years. Prosecutions of this nature currently account for almost 20% of the Crown Prosecution Service’ total case load.

While new panels provide encouraging indicators that the police want to improve the way that they handle DA and VAWG crime, things are not entirely rosy. For example, the Home Office does not gather official statistics on the number of women and girls killed through domestic violence, a vast oversight. We do know the number of women killed by men in the UK because of the work of one individual Karen Ingala Smith, CEO of nia (a domestic violence charity) who began Counting Dead Women in 2012, her efforts are now supported by Women’s Aid and has developed into the Femicide Census to record all cases of ‘the murder of women because they are women’ (Women’s Aid, 2016). These efforts show a year on year increase in the number of women dying, averaging two women per week, at the hands of a partner, ex-partner or family member.

On the one hand we have the highest recorded reporting and prosecutions for DA and VAWG crimes. On the other, we have an increasing number of women dying from this type of crime. So what are some of the reasons that might be contributing to this? Since 2010, we have seen swinging cuts to services under austerity. This includes large cuts to women’s refuges resulting in the loss of 17% of specialist refuges and a third of referrals being turned away. Police guidelines outline refuges as a key intervention in the effective protection of victims, so with fewer refuges and places for vulnerable women and children it is a no brainer that this may have a detrimental effect on victims’ ability to get themselves to safety.

Though prosecutions are up, these cases reflect a small proportion of the overall number of incidences reported. And there are new ways of committing these offences as seen in the proliferation of online abuse specifically using social media as a tool for stalking, harassment and control. Policing these new mechanisms of abuse take investment and resources, there is much work to be done and things are likely to get worse as we see continued cuts to police budgets meaning fewer specialist police.

Other reforms such as changes to legal aid have been felt particularly acutely by women, who will have little recourse to free legal aid. According to this report such changes “raise disturbing questions about the state’s failure to protect women, especially those at risk of – and those who have already experienced – domestic violence” (Mayo and Koessl, 2015: 9).

There are deeper, enduring structural inequalities which place women in a position of less power in relation to men, this legacy can be seen in the persistence of devaluing of social reproductive work, the gender pay gap, gendered labour, maternity leave policy to name just a few. It is this power imbalance that creates a breeding ground for domestic abuse which is about power and control. These inequalities will be made worse by ongoing reforms to both in-work and out-of-work benefits. Upcoming reforms are likely to worsen the financial situation of vulnerable women, particularly lone parents. These factors explain some of the reasons behind the statistics and we may see further increases in DA and VAWG crimes and dead women.

SPECIAL CALL for contributions: EU Referendum result

We are putting out a special call for contributions from criminology postgrads. This is an opinion piece, and we are only after a small paragraph 150-300 words, that discusses the potential implications of the vote on criminal justice.You can address any area of criminal justice- such as prisoner voting, or human rights – or talk more generally about the impact upon wider criminal justice issues (security etc). 

It doesn’t matter how you voted, this is about looking forward to consider what this vote may mean. The committee will take a selection of submissions (assuming we receive enough suitable contributions to run the piece), and post one blog about it next week. 

Please email submissions to nicola.harding@stu.mmu.ac.uk before Wednesday 29th June 2016.